Dental Informatics and Dental Research   Conference, June 12-13, 2003: Making the Connection
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is informatics?
I thought informatics was just anything related to computer technology. It isn't?
What's the difference between informatics and information technology?
What is bioinformatics?
I am a dental researcher, and I have a hard time picturing how informatics could help me with my research problems.
Can informatics help me obtain more funding for my dental research projects?
What do informaticians know?
What are the major unsolved dental research problems?
Doesn't biomedical informatics take care of all computational issues in biomedical research? Why do we need dental informatics?

What is informatics?
Informatics is a research discipline focused on developing new concepts, models and methods for computers and information processing. It draws on a broad range of related disciplines, such as computer and information science, cognitive science and telecommunications.
I thought informatics was just anything related to computer technology. It isn't?
One of the most common misconceptions is that informatics encompasses anything related to computers, hardware or software. Informatics is a research discipline, while information technology (IT) is more of a supporting technology. Informatics is concerned with how computer technologies and information models can be made to work better or more efficiently. Information technology (IT), on the other hand, is mainly focused on making existing, off-the-shelf hardware and software work for individuals and/or organizational environments. There are some areas of overlap, especially in software development and evaluation.
What's the difference between informatics and information technology?
Informatics is a research discipline. Its output sometimes is used in information technology (IT). For instance, a medical informatician would figure out how to design and develop a new expert system for the diagnosis of skin diseases. An IT person, on the other hand, would take this product, implement it in a production environment, and make sure that users can work with it.
What is bioinformatics?
Bioinformatics is a subdiscipline of biomedical informatics exclusively focused on genetic and proteomic research questions. While it is a very new and hot research area, one has to acknowledge that it conceptually constitutes only a very small part of the biomedical informatics research enterprise. Other focal areas in biomedical informatics include structural (or imaging) informatics, clinical informatics and public health informatics (see Shortliffe EH, Johnson SB, Medical Informatics Training and Research at Columbia University).
I am a dental researcher, and I have a hard time picturing how informatics could help me with my research problems.
Many dental research problems, on the surface, might have little relationship to informatics. Instead, often the fact that a research project might require information technology (IT) support might be the primary concern. However, to an informatician, a dental research project might present several informatics-related questions and issues. The easiest way to find out whether a dental research project has informatics implications is to ask a biomedical informatician with broad background and experience.
Can informatics help me obtain more funding for my dental research projects?
Potentially. For one, a good informatics component might make your project look more attractive and well-developed to the funding agency. Second, addressing an important informatics problem in the course of a dental research project will not only help you, but also others who might be grappling with similar issues. Third, there is a chance that a standalone informatics project might be spun off from your original project. Lastly, working together with informaticians shows your commitments to interdisciplinary work--another asset in the eyes of reviewers.
What do informaticians know?
Informaticians come with very different knowledge and sets of skills. First of all, informaticians who have graduated from high-quality training programs tend to have completed MS or PhD degrees in biomedical informatics. Second, where they completed their informatics training largely determines which areas they are strongest in. Good training programs tend to be strong in a few areas (such as artificial intelligence, clinical informatics applications, cognitive science or bioinformatics), while at the same time delivering good basic foundational training in biomedical informatics.
What are the major unsolved dental research problems?
Dental research problems generally range from the universally applicable - such as the mediation of infection and the progression of cancer - to the very specific - such as the replacement/regeneration of dental hard tissues, or the effects of specific genetic defects on the development of the craniofacial complex. Chapter 7 of the ADA's Future of Dentistry Report (Dental and Craniofacial Research) provides a good overview of the current issues in dental and craniofacial research.
Doesn't biomedical informatics take care of all computational issues in biomedical research? Why do we need dental informatics?
Biomedical informatics is a canonic term that encompasses all informatics fields in biomedicine. Among those are dental informatics, medical informatics, nursing informatics and pharmacology informatics, to name just a few. All these disciplines share a large body of common methods and concepts. For instance, expert systems in dentistry and nursing might both use neural networks as their inferencing mechanism. While the concept of the neural network used in both systems is the same, the content and functions of the systems will be quite different.
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